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Evolution of the Coaching Industry & Adaptation of Coach Education

In a recent article by Jonathan Passmore and Woody Woodward (2023), they explore how coaching has evolved, tracing its roots from historical origins to the contemporary age of “digital coaching” and “productization.” They examine the ramifications of these changes on the coaching industry, with a specific emphasis on their impact on coaching education and training. Join us as we explore shifts in the coaching industry and the necessary adaptations needed in coaching education to meet these evolving demands.



A new phase of coaching

Passmore and Woodward outline that there have been three distinct phases of coaching between 1990 and 2020:

  • “Pre-profession” — characterized by “ad hoc and non-qualification-based training.”

  • “Practice-based professionalization” — marked by “small-scale coach providers” adhering to “professional body competencies.”

  • “Evidence-based professionalization” — involving “university-based coach education programs” emphasizing “evidence-based and research-informed training.”


Today, Passmore and Woodward believe that the coaching profession is entering a transformative fourth phase, a “new shift,” driven by the rapid growth of digital coaching in the post-pandemic era.

  • “Productization” — the widespread reach of coaching services due to the advancements of AI and digital coaching technology.

Passmore and Woodward indicate that this shift signifies a transition from "professionalization to productization." Consequently, they call upon coach educators and trainers to reconsider and modernize coach education in response to this new coaching era (Passmore & Woodward, 2023).


Productization and the digital coach

In the past five years, a variety of new coaching services have emerged, blending technology and scientific insights to reshape the executive coaching landscape. Passmore and Woodward categorize these innovations into three groups:

  1. “Digital coaching platforms” — organizations offer the “convenience of online” coaching services.

  2. “Coaching software providers” — programs used by executive coaches to facilitate digital coaching sessions

  3. “AI Coachbots” — devices that provide “computerized coaching conversations” potentially replacing the need for a human coach, though may be used in conjunction with one.


The rise of these new innovations can be largely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, which created the conditions for digital coaching to become widespread. Passmore and Woodward state that in the post-pandemic world, “digital coaching began to scale rapidly… As a result, a whole new industry emerged which many have referred to as the digital coaching technology services industry, or digital coaching for short.”


The digitization of coaching has also expanded the scalability and reach of coaching services, ushering in a global clientele. Consequently, the demand for “more coaches,” specifically those who are “talented and qualified individuals” who understand the “practice and the science of coaching,” has also increased.


In light of these developments, Passmore and Woodward anticipate heightened competition in the coaching industry. They state that clients seeking coaching services “will require more knowledgeable” coaches and “ever higher standards in coach qualifications.” They also predict an increased focus on differentiating one’s coaching services from other competitors and “evidence of impact and predictive data” (Passmore & Woodward, 2023).


Adapting coach education

Ultimately, the productization of coaching via the digital coach is a call to action for coach educators and trainers. Passmore and Woodward argue that educators “must place a greater emphasis on science research and technology” in order to “foster more critical thinking” as the coaching field evolves. There are six key areas they believe are critical to the successful training of evidence-based professional coaches:

  • “Working in digital environment”s — coach education should include discussions of the pros, cons, development, use, impact, and ethics of AI in coaching and business.

  • “Leveraging the power of technology” in the coaching industry — coaches should be taught how to use new tools and technologies (such as AI and digital coaching platforms) in their coaching profession.

  • “Developing deeper self-awareness” — recent research has pointed to the importance of self-awareness for not only business leaders but also coaches themselves (Passmore & Woodward, 2023; Bachkirova, 2011, Carden, Passmore, & Jones, 2022; Carden, Jones & Passmore, 2021).

  • “Development of self-care” — encourage coaches to “meet other coaches, share experiences,” “build relationships,” and prepare their “network” within the coaching community. Education programs and training should also include “supervision and mentoring” for developing coaches.

  • Teaching a “wider understanding of organizational context” — educate and train coaches so that they have a “strong grounding in organizational systems” to aid in the diagnosis of challenges and goals.

  • Developing “generic business skills” — “many coaches feel this is a missing ingredient” in the coach training and education programs currently offered.


For coach program managers specifically, Passmore and Woodward note the importance of developing skills in areas such as “procurement,” “contracting,” “managing,” and “evaluating the quality of coaching and its impact” in different areas. For coaches specifically focused on service roles, education should include an “exploration of the service function” including areas such as “proposals, recruitment, management,” “supervision,” “evaluation,” and coach “impact” (Passmore and Woodward, 2023).


A call to research collaboration

In addition to addressing education and training needs, there is a call for collaboration between coaching organizations and educational institutions. Passmore and Woodward encourage university psychology departments and business schools to partner with digital providers and professional bodies to conduct high-quality research studies. This collaboration would harness the strengths of academic coaching bodies and the expansive reach of digital coaching platforms, ultimately enhancing research quality and impact (Passmore & Woodward, 2023).


The main takeaway

In the ever-evolving coaching industry, it's crucial for coach education and training to adapt and align with the current requirements of aspiring executive coaches. Spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the coaching industry is rapidly moving towards what Passmore and Woodward call the “productization” of coaching by digital means. To best address these changes, coach educators and trainers are encouraged to adopt a curriculum that includes topics such as “working in digital environments,” how coaches can use new technologies and AI, self-awareness development, self-care development, “organizational context,” and “generic business skills” (Passmore & Woodward, 2023). Furthermore, academic and research organizations in the coaching industry are encouraged to pair with digital coaching platforms to further advance their research efficacy and impact (Passmore & Woodward, 2023).


To read the original article, click here.


Primary reference

Passmore, J. & Woodward, W. (2023) Coaching education: Wake up to the new digital and AI coaching revolution! International Coaching Psychology Review,18(1).58-72


Other references

Bachkirova, T. (2011).Developmental coaching: Working with the self.Maidenhead:OUP


Carden, J. Jones, R. & Passmore, J. (2021). An exploration of the role of coach training in developing self-awareness: A mixed methods study.Current Psychology,https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01929-8


Carden, J., Passmore, J.& Jones, R. (2022). Exploring the role of self-awareness in coach development: A grounded theory study.International Journal of Training and Development. 26(2) 343–363.https:// doi.org/10.1111/ijtd.12261


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